Last year saw the highest number of law enforcement officers intentionally killed in the line of duty since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, an increase that comes as a rise in gun violence and homicides continues, CNN reports. According to preliminary year-end data from by the FBI, 73 officers died in felonious killings in the line of duty in 2021. That is the highest total recorded by the agency since 1995, excluding the 9/11 attacks. Of the 73 officers killed, 55 officers were killed by gunfire in 2021 through the end of November, up from 39 in the same time frame in both 2020 and 2019. Citing national data on violence, Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum said, "When homicides go up, more shootings go up, and it contributes to an overall increase in violence and police officers find themselves in the middle of that environment."
Maria Haberfeld, chair of the Department of Law, Police Sciences, and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College, who has analyzed data on police deaths in the line of duty, says that a rise in violence against police officers is a phenomenon that happens "every few years" because of an event that serves as a catalyst. Typically, she said, the uptick is tied to a high-profile case in which an officer or department is accused of misconduct and then that "spills over to all the other police officers around the country." The 73 felonious deaths reported by the FBI are a 59 percent increase from 2020's total of 46, breaking the previous high of 72 felonious killings in 2011. At least eight police officers also lost their lives in premeditated, ambush-style attacks last year. Felonious killings were not the No. 1 cause of death for law enforcement officers in 2021: For the second year in a row, that was COVID. The Officer Down Memorial Page reported 336 COVID-19 deaths among line-of-duty officers in 2021, up from 254 officers who died from COVID-19 in 2020.